The turnaround is remarkable

Derek Moore, Bands Forum Co-ordinator, in his office at St Columb's Park House.
Derek Moore, Bands Forum Co-ordinator, in his office at St Columb's Park House.

The highly successful Relief of Derry celebration at the weekend, which saw 145 bands converge on the city, has drawn praise from the co-ordinator of the Londonderry Bands Forum, Derek Moore.

Reflecting on the recent history of the bands scene, he said there had been “a remarkable turnaround” from 20 years ago, when the city centre was deserted and businesses pulled their shutters down for the day.

“On Sunday morning when we were going around we were meeting people coming from B&Bs, there were people who were staying in the Tower Hotel, people were staying in the Travel Lodge, so when you see where people were staying, people would not have stayed in the city centre over that period in August 20 years ago,” he said.

“I have not heard of one single incident in the town relating to people going home at night or whatever, so from that point of view it has been a remarkable turnaround,” he said reflecting on the celebrations at the weekend.

Although overall he is visibly delighted at the progress that has been made, which he attributes simply to effective organisation and good communication, both internally and externally of the Bands Forum, Derek says he was less happy with the July 12 celebrations this year.

“I think July 12 for us, overall, was very disappointing. Part of the work that we are trying to do through The Maiden City Accord’ is all about organisation and communication. The Twelfth of July seemed to be totally lacking in that. The parade was too big for Limavady for a start. It wasn’t suitable to take that whole County Flagship parade.

“From our perspective, the organisational part of it, the bands here were meeting at 7.30am but were not marching until nearly 2pm in Limavady. We could have nearly walked there. It was totally lacking in organisation; the transport, where we were supposed to be dropped off and picked up was poor. So, the work that we are trying to do is to try and push on this year and try and meet with the Orange Order and the Apprentice Boys just to see if we can arrange these parades a bit better. Our big thing has always been timing and communication is everything,” he said.

Going forward, he said, the aim would be to look at keeping parades tight and on the move, reducing gaps and examining health and safety issues and emergency services provision.

“On the whole, though, it was good,” he said.

In the past Finn Gardens at Irish Street has been a ‘traditional’ place for bandsmen to have access to drinking water, with one family in particular opening their door and ensuring people had water. One move has been for the Forum to encourage them to encourage their neighbours to help out with issuing water to the marchers, as well as encouraging the bandsmen and women to carry water with them while on parade, which worked to a limited degree. However, Derek concedes that this is not always practical for the band members and says another option they are looking at is having water stations along the parade route in future years.

“We are looking at having something like the Walled City Marathon, where people can just pick up water and just keep on going,” he said.

One huge step forward this year was the production of ‘The Maiden City Accord’ which was launched last week and in keeping with the Forum’s belief in communication, the city centre management team and police were briefed about it’s contents and the launch beforehand, thus ensuring a cohesive approach to the launch and the dissemination of information. The result was that both spoke positively at the launch event.

“The city centre management said a good lot of businesses were opened, which was good. A thing we did last year when he had the marching bands in the square was that we went to the traders beforehand and actually got feedback afterwards as well, so when anyone comes out and says people were not trading at all we can say that it is not true,” he said.

This year the Forum spoke not only with the City Centre manager Jim Roddy, but they also spoke with key cafe owners and the opening of restaurants and shops this year was applauded by Mr Moore, who said the Forum was asked to help spread the word about businesses being open on Saturday - something they were only too keen to do .

What we are saying is if everybody works together then traders can make money and visitors can get something to eat and drink,” he said.

One area that is also a key to the success of future parades and pageants in the city is the provision of adequate toilet facilities. Derek said there was no point is hiding portable toilets 150 yards down a side street, away from the parade route, as this had the effect of rendering them ineffective to those on parade. Toilet facilities need to be on the parade route, he said.

In the past, when parades meant the traders of the town shut down, it meant the shopping centres, where public toilets were housed, were also closed - with all the attendant knock-on effects that this involved, including people trying to find secluded places if they were caught short.

The decision by traders to remain open has been a large step forward in terms of making the event more appealing and Mr Moore said going forward further work would be done to ensure adequate basic provisions were improved on, including toilet access and encouraging traders to exploit the potential to enjoy economic success.

For related stories see Page 1 and Pages 32&33.